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Major vote on mass transit in Georgia expected in early 2019
Gwinnett County residents to decide whether to join MARTA

ATLANTA — A historic vote in early 2019 could bring more mass transit to metro Atlanta's booming northeast suburbs.

Gwinnett County residents are set to vote March 19 on whether to join the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, commonly known as MARTA.

If voters give their approval, they'd pay a new 1 percent sales tax until 2057, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Under the contract with MARTA, the extra penny on purchases in Gwinnett would be collected by the state. The money would then flow back to the county, which would write checks to the transit agency.

Among plans being considered, should the vote pass: Gwinnett County's first-ever MARTA rail station near Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard. Trains from the station would connect with the Doraville MARTA station.

Public outreach to educate voters on what's involved is expected to ramp up as the vote draws closer.

Since they are government entities, Gwinnett County and MARTA can't use tax dollars to advocate for or against a referendum question - so, officially, they're left with "education" efforts at their disposal, the newspaper reported.

The information will undoubtedly focus on explaining both the county's transit plan and its pending contract with MARTA. The latter may be especially crucial for longtime residents of the county that have been wary to trust outside groups with Gwinnett County tax dollars.

If the referendum is approved, most of the Gwinnett County transit tax dollars collected will be put away for future projects, including extending a rail line to the county. But about a third of the early collections would go to ramp up bus operations and for general maintenance and operation of the transit system.

A pro-MARTA committee called "Go Gwinnett" registered with the state earlier this month. Its spokeswoman, Paige Havens, said it is comprised of various community leaders who felt the need to step up.

The group is still formulating its plans, but expects to get revved up in early January. It will hold regular public meetings and town halls, canvass at various places throughout the county and create a website, among other efforts, Havens said.

"I think that the biggest issue is helping people understand what this vote is about, and it's not what previous referendums were about," Havens said. "There's a lot more local control in this."

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